“You might be surprised what I would let the right woman do.”
Heat rushes to my cheeks. “I don’t intend—”
He laughs, low and deep, and I’m taken off guard. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard him laugh. “I’m aware you don’t intend to do many things I’d like you to.”
I open my mouth to protest even having this conversation, but he cuts me off by adding, “And no, I’m not going to pressure you.” He turns me toward the gallery. “Let’s get back to the gallery. I left you a little gift on your desk.”
Thankfully, my back is to him, so he can’t see me react to his words. Mark has succeeded in doing what only Chris has done before this. He’s sent me into an adrenaline rush of anticipation and I can barely keep my pace slow and even. I don’t know what to expect. A rare piece of art? An official job offer? The possibilities are many.
I expect Mark to follow me to my office, but again, he is unpredictable. I’m relieved, certain that the less Mark sees me react and the less he knows what makes me tick, the better. The instant I walk into my office, I freeze. Lying on top of my desk is a journal that matches the ones I’ve locked away in Chris’s safe.
The journal Mark left for me is sitting in my lap as I drive to Alvarez’s Victorian mansion in San Francisco’s ritzy Nob Hill area, sometimes referred to as Snob Hill. Just ten minutes from the Allure Gallery, it’s here that the rich and famous are plentiful, and aside from mansions galore, the nearby shopping and theater districts cater to the elite. I’ve gone from avoiding the things that remind me of the money I left behind to drowning in it.
I maneuver into the driveway, which is remarkably unremarkable, but with a city less than forty-seven square miles, even here it’s expected. What space doesn’t allow on the outside is made up for with glamour on the inside. Since my Google search for directions brought up references to a renowned architect, I’m quite certain this one is not the exception.
Once I kill the engine of the 911, I stare at the red door of the house, my teeth worrying my bottom lip. I am not drowning, I remind myself. I’m taking control of my life. I’m no longer hiding. I’m no longer in denial. I have a meeting with the famous, talented Ricco Alvarez. So why the heck am I not hopping out of the car, when it’s five minutes until my meeting and being early makes a good impression?
My fingers wrap around the journal I’ve found to be both a treasure and a disappointment. It is far from the dark and revealing view into Rebecca’s soul that are the other journals. It’s a detailed accounting of every piece of work she ever sold or evaluated for Riptide. The most revealing things are her short insights into the staff, buyers, sellers, and artists that she has encountered and their personality quirks, interests, and history.
Her notes about Chris are scribbled out and no matter how I try, I cannot make them out, though I’m not surprised about the various art he’s sold through Riptide to benefit the children’s hospital. I can’t think about that now, though. I have to conquer this meeting with success, despite the unease inside me I have no real reason to feel. Rebecca’s notes were positive on Alvarez. Generally misunderstood, and while motivated by money and success, he has proven generous in tremendous ways.
I’m close to the gallery. I’m supposed to call Mark after my meeting. People know where I am. But . . . I don’t want to be stupid. What if Mark and Alvarez are the two men in the journal?
I grab my phone out of my purse and hit the auto-dial I’ve programmed for Jacob. He answers on the first ring. “Everything okay, Ms. McMillan?”
“Yes. Completely fine. I just . . . want to make sure it stays that way. I’m probably being paranoid, but . . .”
“Paranoid is better than careless.”
I have no idea how much he knows about Rebecca or what I have going on, but I don’t think it matters anyway. “I’m headed into a business meeting and my boss knows where I am, but in light of recent incidents, I’d like someone else to know as well.”
“What’s the address?”
“It’s the private gallery for the artist Ricco Alvarez,” I explain after reciting the address. “I’m not sure how long the meeting will be. It could be fifteen minutes or two hours. If it’s short I’ll head back to an event going on at the gallery.”
“Can you check in in an hour to let me know you’re okay?”
“I’ll try, but I don’t want to be rude in the meeting.”
“Just text me if you can. That’s discreet.”
“Right. Okay. Thanks, Jacob.” I hesitate and cringe, imagining the moment Jacob tells Chris where I’m at. “Jacob. Don’t tell Chris where I’m at while he’s traveling. He’ll worry. He’s had a horrible trip and I don’t want him to stress out any more than he already has.”
“If he asks, I have to tell him, but . . . I won’t go out of my way to announce it.”
“Thank you very much, Jacob.”
“My pleasure, Ms. McMillan, and I mean that. Chris seems different with you around.”
It is the same thing his godmother had said to me when we’d visited her winery. “Is that good?”
“It is. Be safe.”
“I will.” I hope. I say good-bye and hang up. Not giving myself time to fret, I grab my briefcase, get out of the car, and head for the door. My phone goes in my jacket pocket, where I keep it out of habit.